Photos

Wed, 2020-10-14 22:37
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Joan Mir invented the sport of gravel skiing when he crashed, stood up, slid, and ran on Saturday


October racing means light magic. Brad Binder turns up the contrast


Alex Marquez would get another taste of wet weather, and capitalize on the opportunity


Suzuki in wet weather trim, with full shrouds around the Brembo carbon discs, and tape on the radiator to keep the heat in


Johann Zarco arrived at his home GP with a good deal less pressure on his shoulders


Unlike El Diablo, Fabio Quartararo, who looked like cleaning up in the dry


Ducati's rear wheel aero cover on Jack Miller's Pramac Ducati. Note also the torsion meter sprocket carrier


Clear visors in the rain mean you can follow Alex Rins eyes


A rough weekend for Valentino Rossi ...


Crashing at Turn 4 in practice ...


And then in the same place on the first lap of the race. That made it three crashes in three races


Words were exchanged between Pecco Bagnaia and Miguel Oliveira. But they sorted it out after qualifying


Pole at home, and a punishing pace in FP4. Who could stop Fabio Quartararo in the race?


The weather, and a gaggle of Ducatis, that's who


4 into 1. Or rather, 4 into Turn 9, as Danilo Petrucci, Jack Miller, Alex Rins, and Andrea Dovizioso all try to fit into the Chemin aux Boeufs esses


Jack Miller would be foiled by the rain, and using an engine which was starting to display problems during warm up. It let go in the race


Danilo Petrucci rode a near perfect race, controlling from the front, and reminding the world just how good he is


Saving the honor of HRC, Alex Marquez scored a superb podium in the wet at Le Mans.


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Mon, 2020-10-12 23:36
Body:

If 2020 has taught us anything, it is that it is pointless to try to make sense of 2020. There is neither rhyme nor reason to this year; you just have to let it wash over you like an autumnal rain shower and hope to emerge on the other side, if not unscathed, then at least in some sort of shape to continue. It is impossible to make plans, impossible to predict what might happen next.

So it is in MotoGP too. After Barcelona, we started to believe that a shape was emerging to the 2020 MotoGP championship. That favorites were emerging who would do battle over the title for the remaining six races. Naturally enough, this turned out to be naively optimistic, reckoning without the weirdness which runs like a shimmering thread through this pandemic-blighted year. We really should have known better.

Le Mans confronted us once again with the reality of 2020. A rain shower as the bikes headed out for the sighting lap threw the race into disarray, reshuffling the cards once again. Teams had to gamble on whether the rain would persist, and if so, for how long, and make choices about tires and setup. Once the race started on a very obviously wet track, the rain came and went, ending any thoughts of pitting for slicks, leaving the riders to sink or swim by their tire choice, and how well they managed to preserve their tires to the end.

Even then the race wasn't that simple. There was chaos at the start, Valentino Rossi crashing out at the chicane, throwing another wildcard into the mid pack melee. Riders were shuffled toward the back, but then came through the field as a result of smart tire management and fortuitous tire choices. And perhaps just with getting lucky with conditions.

Where to begin? Here's a selection of subjects in these subscriber notes:

  • Jack Miller's cruel luck
  • how the weather made tire choice both crucial, and a lottery
  • Was this an inline 4 vs V4 race?
  • Maverick Viñales' decision to skip launch control and do it himself
  • why qualifying matters, and sometimes doesn't matter
  • a day that was simultaneously very good, very bad, and pretty insignificant for the championship contenders
  • a two-meatball race, something we haven't seen before
  • Danilo Petrucci and Alex Márquez, an unlikely podium and a chance to take aim at their critics
  • MotoGP's Mr Regularity

There is a lot to try to make sense of, though this time, that may be hard. But we have to begin with weather, and how the rain, and tire choices made, would have a profound impact on the outcome of the race. Though ironically, not so much on the championship.

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Thu, 2020-10-01 18:52
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Contrary to appearances, Fabio Quartararo was not lying down on the job at Barcelona


Which Maverick Viñales would turn up this weekend, we asked ourselves? Unlike Misano, the wrong one.


Franco Morbidelli pushed early, but had no tire left at the end of the race. Alex Rins did the opposite, and finished ahead


A weekend of up and downs for Valentino Rossi...


His deal to race a factory Yamaha in the Petronas team was announced...


He qualified on the front row of the grid, key to a good result on a Yamaha M1...


He chased down Franco Morbidelli and looked to be on course for a podium, maybe even a win ...


Until ...


Down...


Out...


Better luck next time


Joan Mir was like a shark smelling blood in the water


The battle for ninth, tenth, and eleventh. Some come down for Viñales, who finished ahead of Cal Crutchlow and Brad Binder


Brad Binder gets serious


It was not to be for Pol Espargaro, the factory KTM rider crashing out of the race at the halfway mark


Marc Marquez made a brief return to the paddock at Barcelona, to meet with Honda about his progress


And explain how his recovery was going


And dream of a return. Aragon? Maybe. Valencia? More likely

 


If you'd like to have very high-resolution (4K) versions of the fantastic photos which appear on the site, you can become a site supporter and take out a subscription. A subscription will also give you access to the many in-depth and exclusive articles we produce for MotoMatters.com site supporters. The more readers who join our growing band of site supporters, the better we can make MotoMatters.com, and the more readers will get out of the website. You can find out more about subscribing to MotoMatters.com here. You can also see these photos and all our subscriber material on our Patreon page.

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Tue, 2020-09-29 01:15
Body:

It turns out there is someone who wants to win the 2020 MotoGP championship after all. A couple of people in fact, and they are now starting to make an effort to actually win this thing. After last week at Misano, when the top four in the championship were separated by just 4 points, it was hard to discern a shape to the 2020 title chase. Unseasonably cold weather, a punishing track for tires, and the usual run of random racing incidents events shook up the championship at Montmelo. Now, a pattern seems to be emerging from the fog of racing war.

After Misano, just 4 points separated the top four. A week later, there are 24 points covering the first four places, and 8 points – twice what covered last week's top four – the gap from first to second place. The points spread between the top ten has nearly doubled, from 27 to 50 points.

At Misano, Takaaki Nakagami was highlighted as a rider still in with a shot of the championship, not least by Repsol Honda boss Albert Puig, in defense of the job Honda have done in 2020. The LCR Honda rider was seventh, but trailed the leader Andrea Dovizioso by 21 points. With 7 races still left to contest, Nakagami had a shot at the title which was anything but theoretical.

A week later, and Nakagami is still seventh in the championship. But his chances of actually lifting the 2020 title have gone from vaguely plausible to a very long shot indeed. Now, Nakagami is 36 points behind the leader, with only 6 races left. A 36-point deficit would require help from other riders to become champion, and to take points off Fabio Quartararo at two races at least. And if Dorna and the FIM are forced to cancel races once again if the second wave of Covid-19 currently gaining steam across Europe forces governments to impose new restrictions, then a 36-point deficit becomes pretty much insurmountable.

Shakeout at the top

At the Gran Premi Monster Energy de Catalunya, held at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya in Montmelo, two clear championship favorites emerged, and two others let their title chances slip away. Fabio Quartararo seized control of the 2020 title chase, while Joan Mir established himself as the chief challenger.

Former championship leader Andrea Dovizioso was taken out of contention by another Ducati rider, Avintia's Johann Zarco (who in the same motion, also lost any lingering chance of a seat in the factory team once Ducati announce their 2021 MotoGP line up on Wednesday. Maverick Viñales needed no help taking himself out of contention, swallowed up without a trace in the first lap of the race, and never reemerging to mount a challenge.

What happened? There are a number of issues to cover in these subscriber notes if we are to describe how we got to where we are now, and where we go from here. So here is what we will be discussing:

  •  how a war of attrition ended up with Fabio Quartararo (almost) cruising to victory
  •  Fabio Quartararo's championship worthy rider
  •  the strength of the Suzuki, and especially Joan Mir
  •  the real favorite for the championship
  •  why tire options were so limited, and how different tire strategies created an intriguing race
  •  how disaster struck for Andrea Dovizioso
  •  is Franco Morbidelli's speed deficit as bad as he claims
  •  how Takaaki Nakagami is flying under the radar, and is in line for a podium soon
  •  why Maverick Viñales had a terrible race, and whether this is a permanent feature of his racing

But first, it feels right to pay tribute to the winner. Here is how Fabio Quartararo took victory in Montmelo, and what it means in the championship.

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Sat, 2020-09-26 10:19
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Valentino Rossi at Misano in 2020 - Photo Cormac Ryan Meenan

The deal is done at last. Today, the Petronas Yamaha SRT team has announced that Valentino Rossi will partner Franco Morbidelli in 2021. Rossi has signed a one-year extension of his contract with Yamaha, to race in the Petronas Yamaha SRT team.

This has been a long and difficult negotiation since the beginning of the year. Back then, Yamaha had faced the problem of trying to fit three riders into their factory Monster Energy team.

Ducati had been chasing both Maverick Viñales and Fabio Quartararo, and Yamaha did not want to lose their two young riders. Rossi had told Yamaha that he wanted to wait for the first five or six races before making a decision on whether he would retire, or stay on for another year. Yamaha moved to fend off Ducati's attempted poaching of Viñales and Quartararo by signing them to the factory team, and offering Rossi a factory-supported Yamaha M1 if he decided to continue.

That meant Rossi and Petronas were condemned to one another, if you can use such a phrase for the most successful premier class rider in history and the best satellite team in MotoGP. And each side had their own list of demands: Rossi wanted to bring his entire crew with him, along with various others, Petronas were willing to take only his crew chief David Muñoz and data engineer Matteo Flamigni. Then there was sorting out the mass of sponsors on both sides.

At Jerez, it became clear that Rossi would only be allowed to bring Muñoz, Flamigni, and rider coach Idalio Gavira to Petronas. That sparked a long negotiation over the rest of the conditions, the final details of which were only settled in the week between the two races in Misano, when Petronas Yamaha boss Razlan Razali visited the VR46 headquarters along with Yamaha racing boss Lin Jarvis. That resulted in the deal signed in Barcelona.

Rossi's move leaves the remainder of his crew in a difficult position. Mechanics Alex Briggs and Brent Stephens have been told there is no place for them in Yamaha, mostly a question of travel costs. Briggs lives in Australia, and Stephens in New Zealand, and both were used to flying home in between races. American Mark Elder will stay with Yamaha, as will Belgian Bernard Ansiau, it is believed.

The fact that this is a one-year deal is another reason Petronas were not keen on taking Rossi's crew. Briggs, Stephens, and Ansiau have all been with Rossi for a very long time, most since he arrived in the premier class with Honda. If they had decided to retire along with Rossi, Petronas would have been forced to look for replacements. That was not a task they relished after investing so much time in putting together their team at the beginning of the 2019 season.

Will 2021 be the end of Valentino Rossi's MotoGP career? It is too early to say. He already has a podium this season, and believes he is capable of more. If he fares worse in 2021 than he does this year, then he may decide to hang up his helmet, especially given that there are talks of the VR46 team making a move up to MotoGP.

But that is all still a long way off. For the moment, Valentino Rossi stays on for another year.

Below are the press releases from Petronas and from Yamaha announcing the deal:


Valentino Rossi to join PETRONAS Yamaha SRT in 2021

9-times World Champion confirmed to continue in MotoGP with the Malaysian squad together with Franco Morbidelli

PETRONAS Yamaha Sepang Racing Team is proud to announce that Valentino Rossi will join the squad for the 2021 MotoGP season. Valentino Rossi needs no introduction, considered by many as the Greatest Of All Time through a record-breaking career in the premier class of the sport since 2000.

Rossi – Urbino, 16th February 1979 – has competed in the premier class since 2000 and is the only rider in history to win 125, 250, 500 and MotoGP World Championships. In the premier class alone, Valentino boasts seven world titles, 89 race wins, 199 podiums, 55 pole positions and 76 fastest laps. As part of PETRONAS Yamaha SRT in 2021, the Italian will compete aboard a Yamaha YZR-M1 for the ninth season in a row.

The move will see Rossi join the satellite team in what will be only their third season in the MotoGP category, after the Malaysian squad made their debut at the Qatar GP in 2019. That first season in the premier class saw PETRONAS Yamaha SRT rack up six pole positions and seven podiums, and win the Independent Teams’ Championship. This year has already seen two pole positions, four podiums and three race wins, and the lead of the outright Teams’ Championship, for the outfit.

The announcement of Rossi alongside fellow countryman and friend Franco Morbidelli completes the PETRONAS Yamaha SRT line-up for 2021 – a line-up eager to write another chapter of MotoGP history next year.

Razlan Razali - Team Principal

On behalf of PETRONAS Yamaha Sepang Racing Team and all its partners, it is an absolute honour to welcome Valentino Rossi – an iconic rider and legend into the team next year. His experience will be a great asset to the team as we move into our third season in MotoGP and we are sure we will be able to learn a lot from Valentino. At the same time, we will do our absolute best to assist him to be competitive to reward him for the trust he has in us as a team. We are humbled by this opportunity and ready to take on the challenge. We believe that the combination of Valentino and Franco will provide a truly formidable force on track to help us in our goal of being as competitive as possible together next year. We can’t wait!

Johan Stigefelt - Team Director

To be able to sign a rider like Valentino Rossi, for what will be only our third year in the MotoGP championship, is amazing. We have evolved from a Moto3 team to a Moto2 team to a MotoGP team in a short time frame and now to be leading the MotoGP teams’ championship and signing one of the greatest riders the sport has ever known is incredible. It has been a long time since Valentino was in a satellite team and we will try our best to help him feel like new again. We want to make sure that he feels comfortable in our team, which we trust in and believe in so much. Our target is to get even better as a team, help Rossi deliver the best results possible and make 2021 a memorable year.


YAMAHA MOTOR CO., LTD. SIGNS 2021 CONTRACT RENEWAL WITH VALENTINO ROSSI

Yamaha Motor Co., Ltd. and nine-time World Champion Valentino Rossi have officially signed a one-year contract renewal for 2021. The Grand Prix racing icon will take part in next year‘s MotoGP World Championship as a Factory Yamaha rider for the PETRONAS Yamaha Sepang Racing Team, with full support from Yamaha Motor Co., Ltd.

Montmelò (Spain), 26th September 2020

Yamaha Motor Co., Ltd. is pleased to announce that it has signed a one-year renewal agreement with Grand Prix racing legend Valentino Rossi. Fans all over the world will be delighted to know that the nine-time World Champion will be participating in the 2021 MotoGP World Championship as a fully supported Factory Yamaha rider for the PETRONAS Yamaha Sepang Racing Team.

Due to the global Covid-19 outbreak, Rossi was obliged to state his future intention to continue as a MotoGP rider before competing in a single 2020 MotoGP race. However, having completed seven GP weekends since then, the 41-year-old is certain that he made the right decision. He reunited with his beloved YZR-M1 showing competitive pace and has a lot of fight left in him.

The Yamaha Factory Racing MotoGP Team wants to thank Rossi for his continuous contribution and effort. Currently competing in their 15th MotoGP season together, to date they have secured 4 world titles, 142 podiums, 56 victories, and competed in 250 races.

Rossi can be assured of the team‘s full support for the remainder of the 2020 championship. Everyone is fully focused on completing this season on a high note, as the team continues to push for the three World Championship titles.

LIN JARVIS - MANAGING DIRECTOR, YAMAHA MOTOR RACING

We are delighted that Valentino will be staying in MotoGP for another year, and we are sure the fans of the sport feel the same way. A substantial part of the MotoGP fanbase will have grown up with Valentino and followed him throughout his career.

"This current and final season with the Factory Yamaha Team is his 25th in the motorcycle Grand Prix racing World Championship and his 15th year with Yamaha.

"Early on we assured Valentino that, should he stay in MotoGP for 2021, Yamaha would continue to give him full support and a Factory YZR-M1. In the end, this is exactly what he decided to do.

"I previously stated that this Covid-19 influenced MotoGP season would not be the appropriate year for such a legendary rider to close his career. Valentino has always been so popular with the fans all around the world, so it‘s great that he has decided to continue for at least another season. Hopefully the fans will be allowed back into the tracks next year to savour watching the GOAT in action again.

"I would like to thank the management of the PETRONAS Yamaha Sepang Racing Team for their enthusiasm and full collaboration to welcome Valentino into their team. They are still quite a ’young‘ team, but they are very professional and serious contenders for race wins and feature in the top of the championship standings, so we are sure that Valentino will feel comfortable and be able to perform at his best level.

VALENTINO ROSSI - MONSTER ENERGY YAMAHA MOTOGP RIDER

I am very happy to continue riding in 2021 and to do it with the PETRONAS Yamaha Sepang Racing Team. I thought a lot before taking this decision, because the challenge is getting hotter and hotter. To be at the top in MotoGP you have to work a lot and hard, to train every day and lead an ’athlete's life‘, but I still like it and I still want to ride.

"In the first half of the year I made my choice and I talked with Yamaha, who agreed with me. They told me even if there was no place for me in the Factory Team, the factory bike and the factory support were guaranteed.

"I am very happy to move to PETRONAS Yamaha SRT. They are young, but they‘ve shown to be a top team. They are very serious and very well organised. For this year I also changed my crew chief. I‘m very happy with David, and I think we haven‘t reached our best yet. This was one of the reasons why I chose to continue, because the atmosphere in the team is something I like a lot.

"It‘ll be nice to have Franco as my team-mate, as he‘s an Academy rider, it‘s going to be cool. I think we can work together to make good things happen.

Tue, 2020-09-22 11:48
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Misano 2 was Pecco Bagnaia's race to lose. Something he promptly did. But he'll be back


A crash in FP1 was a sign of a tough weekend ahead for Alex Rins


Up and down in Misano for KTM. Misano 2 was definitely up, with Pol Espargaro ending up on the podium


Winner last week, but sick all weekend for Misano 2. Things didn't go to plan for Franco Morbidelli


The old man can still get it up


You wouldn't have put money on this happening after Misano 1


The Suzuki is one of the few bikes left without a holeshot device, the tail of the bike riding high


Compare and contrast with Jack Miller's Ducati, and how the rear squats on corner exit as he deploys the GP20's shapeshifter


Valentino Rossi prepares


Pol Espargaro put up a valiant battle to hold off Joan Mir and Fabio Quartararo, but couldn't quite make it


It is no small miracle that the MotoGP field makes it through the first two turns at Misano mostly unharmed


Brad Binder watches and learns


Cornering technique, El Diablo style


Bradley Smith is doing what he can to secure a ride for next year. But he will need to get faster, and soon


The aftermath of Valentino Rossi's race crash: wings and fairings flapping about in the wind


At this point, it looked like game over. But Pecco Bagnaia couldn't stay upright, and Maverick Viñales profited as a result


Just imagine what the championship would look like if Joan Mir could qualify well


Viñales style


Best joke of the weekend. Andrea Dovizioso has Unemployed on his leathers because he lost a bet and is leading the championship


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Wed, 2020-09-16 22:09
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Cometh the hour, cometh the man. Franco Morbidelli made Misano his own


King of practice and qualifying, lost in the race. Maverick Viñales has questions to answer


Things didn't work out the way Andrea Dovizioso hoped at one of Ducati's two test tracks in Italy


Pecco Bagnaia came back with a bang after breaking his leg at Brno


Style and substance: Fabio Quartararo


Winner last time out, but Misano was not kind to Miguel Oliveira


Victory by proxy for Valentino Rossi, though he would have preferred to get a podium himself


Always good to get your ducks in a row


Don't look behind you, Joan Mir


Lights to flag. That's how good Morbidelli was. This was about as close as Valentino Rossi got.


It was a really tough weekend for both Espargaro brothers, not just Aleix. Their grandfather died, and they weren't competitive.


A hero in Brno, but Brad Binder was invisible in Misano


You don't do much braking in Misano, but when you do, you have to bury the front


Jack Miller plays peekaboo


The fans were back at Misano. In limited numbers, and with plenty of space between them, but it was a start


The Misano circuit is a streak of color, Aldo Drudi designing the paint which graces the runoff


Not for want of trying... Pol Espargaro gets some air


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Wed, 2020-09-16 00:16
Body:

The Covid-compressed 2020 season has very little room for maneuver. To fit fourteen races into nineteen weeks means making a lot of sacrifices. One of those sacrifices is testing: of the original three one-day post-race tests planned, only one remains, at Misano, on Tuesday.

What is the point of a midweek test in the middle of a year where so much development has been frozen to cut costs? "I think it's just a lot a people getting bored during the week, not moving anywhere, not doing anything, so they're trying to keep each other busy, keep themselves busy," joked Jack Miller.

The Pramac Ducati rider may have said that in jest, but it is easy to believe he is right. Engine and aerodynamics development is frozen for the 2020 and 2021 seasons, which already cuts down dramatically on the options for progress with a bike for this year and next. So surely the teams and factories wouldn't have much to test?

So it was something of a shock to see exactly how much the various factories had brought to the test. Above all Yamaha: a new frame, a new carbon swingarm, a new exhaust, and that was just the parts we could see. Suzuki had a new swingarm, KTM had a new frame, Ducati had a range of parts that were hard to distinguish, Honda had parts for both this year and next, and everybody was working on the electronics. So here is what the factories were working on:

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Mon, 2020-09-14 05:21
Body:

It's 2020, and if there's one thing we know about 2020 is that it is utterly unpredictable. If at any point, a certain event, path of action, or result seems set in stone, 2020 finds a way to rip that up and throw it away. The Misano MotoGP race – Misano 1, that is, the round sponsored by the microstate San Marino, as opposed to next week's round, sponsored by the Emilia-Romagna region – was a case in point. The timesheets in free practice were clear: Fabio Quartararo and Maverick Viñales would run away with this race, trailing the rest of the field, led by the Yamahas of Franco Morbidelli and Valentino Rossi, in their wake.

It didn't quite work out that way. Franco Morbidelli and Valentino Rossi led the field for a while, before they went their separate ways, and a couple of young upstarts started to interfere with their plans. The pre-race favorites suffered an ignominious fate, shaking up the championship along the way. While the winner tore away at the front, a fascinating and thrilling battle unfolded for the other podium places over the final few laps. We are left with a championship that is closer than ever, and even more unpredictable than ever.

How weird is the 2020 season? Franco Morbidelli's maiden MotoGP victory turned him into the fourth different first-time winner in the first six MotoGP races of the year. The last time that happened? 1949, the very first year of Grand Prix motorcycle racing. That is not even a fair comparison: after all, everything was a first in the first year of the officially organized FIM Grand Prix World Championship. Six races was the entirety of the 1949 championship, which started on June 17th, finished September 4th, and crammed a triple header in Switzerland, The Netherlands, and Belgium in the middle.

In 2020, winning a race is no guarantee of sustained success, however. The winner of the previous five races were never in contention for the podium in Misano. Fabio Quartararo, who won the first two races at Jerez crashed out of the Misano race, twice. Brad Binder, who won in Brno finished twelfth. Andrea Dovizioso, who won the first race in Austria, crossed the line in seventh. Miguel Oliveira, who won the last time at the Red Bull Ring, finished just in front of Binder in eleventh. Dovizioso's seventh place finish was good enough to see him leading the championship. A championship which is wildly closer than before.

So there is much to talk about in these subscriber notes. Here's a rundown of the topics covered:

  • The crazy numbers behind the 2020 MotoGP championship
  • Franco Morbidelli's maiden victory – an overlooked talent?
  • Pecco Bagnaia stakes a claim to the second factory Ducati seat
  • Joan Mir snatches a podium from Valentino Rossi, but missed out on much more
  • Valentino Rossi wasn't on the podium, but his legacy is burned indelibly into MotoGP
  • Alex Rins comes up just short
  • The Yamahas that failed – where Maverick Viñales and Fabio Quartararo went wrong
  • Why seventh place makes Andrea Dovizioso the championship favorite, even though he doesn't believe it himself

There is a lot to get through. So let's start off with a look at the bizarre numbers which define the state of the 2020 MotoGP championship.

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Thu, 2020-09-10 01:00
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The opening laps of the 2020 Styrian Grand Prix at the Red Bull Ring - Photo Cormac Ryan Meenan

The 2020 MotoGP season is divided into two, uneven halves. The first five races were something of a warm up: a pair of races at Jerez, followed by a week off, then three races on consecutive weekends, one at Brno, two at the Red Bull Ring in Austria. Those five races proved punishing for bikes, riders, teams.

Riders crashed and hurt themselves: Marc Márquez broke his right arm and put himself out of action and out of the championship; Alex Rins damaged ligaments in his shoulder and has been riding hurt since then; Cal Crutchlow and Johann Zarco broke scaphoids, and gritted their teeth to ride; Zarco and Franco Morbidelli had a horrifying high-speed crash which saw their bikes cross the track and come within centimeters of hitting the Monster Energy Yamaha team of Valentino Rossi and Maverick Viñales.

Bikes suffered in the heat of Jerez: Viñales, Rossi, and Morbidelli all had engines that let go at the first two races, the fault eventually tracked down to a quality issue with valves. Pecco Bagnaia's Ducati GP20 followed suit, blowing out smoke and ending a strong race at the second Jerez round. The Yamahas suffered with braking at Austria, Viñales eventually running out of brakes in the second race at the Red Bull Ring, sending his bike into the wall at Turn 1, where it caught fire. Aprilia's brand new RS-GP had to have some revs capped to ensure it stayed intact at the horsepower-heavy tracks.

Grueling schedule

That was just a start, however. Now, the Grand Prix paddock faces three triple headers in the space of 11 weeks. Two rounds at Misano followed by a race at Barcelona on consecutive weekends. A weekend off, then a race at Le Mans and two at Aragon over three weekends. Another weekend off, then a double header at Valencia, before the season finale at Portimao on the Algarve coast in Portugal. If the racing can continue uninterrupted, that is, without further outbreaks of the COVID-19 pandemic forcing an early end to the 2020 season.

So what did we learn from the first five races? And what does it mean for the remaining nine, or however many there will be before the season finishes? Are there any patterns that point to the outcome of the championship? Can we use them to predict what might happen at Misano?

If there is one thing we have learned from the 2020 MotoGP season so far, it is that it is unpredictable. Marc Márquez started the season as the hot favorite to win another title, but two mistakes during the first race – the first causing him to run wide and have to fight his way forward through almost the entire grid, the second ending with a broken right arm – and a third mistake in trying to rush back too early and stressing the plate holding his broken humerus together, requiring a second operation to fit a new plate, have ruled him out of the championship completely.

I understand that Marc Márquez is hoping to make his return at Aragon, though that is still an extremely optimistic timetable. Valencia, or perhaps even 2021 might be a more realistic option, given the views of some medical experts on the injury. The one thing that 2020 has proved is that Marc Márquez is human after all.

It's 2006 all over again

With Márquez out, that has opened up the field. MotoGP has seen four different winners in the first five races, a feat which last happened back in 2008. Yet 2020 feels more like 2006 than 2008: the four winners of the first five races in 2008 were Casey Stoner, Jorge Lorenzo, Dani Pedrosa, and Valentino Rossi, the riders who won almost every MotoGP race bar a handful in the period between 2007 and 2012. In 2006, the first five races were won by Loris Capirossi on the factory Ducati, Valentino Rossi on the factory Yamaha, Marco Melandri on the satellite Gresini Honda, rookie Dani Pedrosa in his fourth race in MotoGP, for Repsol Honda, and Melandri again.

If anything, 2020 is even wilder than 2006. Two consecutive wins for Fabio Quartararo on the satellite Petronas Yamaha (though on a factory spec machine), a rookie win for Brad Binder in his first race, and the first for KTM, then Andrea Dovizioso extending Ducati's unbeaten streak at the Red Bull Ring, before Miguel Oliveira broke that streak by winning on a satellite KTM (though the Tech3 KTM RC16s are almost identical spec to the bikes in the factory team). Three races won by riders in satellite teams, and by riders in their second season. One victory by a rookie. Only one win by a veteran, and perennial championship front runner.

The break between Jerez and the triple header at Brno and Spielberg marked a change in fortunes for Yamaha. After the first two races in Andalusia, Yamaha riders looked to be favorites for the title. Petronas Yamaha's Fabio Quartararo had scored a perfect 50 points, factory rider Maverick Viñales had a brace of second places and 40 points, while Valentino Rossi had helped give Yamaha their first podium clean sweep since 2014.

First you must finish

There was plenty of room for doubt, however. Yamaha riders lost three engines in the space of two weekends, a fault eventually traced back to a quality control issue with valves. Yamaha first submitted a request to replace the valves on safety grounds, then withdrew it when the other factories started asking for more technical details to justify the change. They believe they can manage the engine situation, Yamaha boss Lin Jarvis told MotoGP.com pit lane reporter Simon Crafar. There are credible reports that part of managing the engines involved dialing down the revs, by perhaps as much as 500 RPM, which is a lot for a bike which is already down on power.

Then there were the brake issues at the Red Bull Ring. The Yamahas were overheating their brakes, due in part to sticking with the 2019-spec Brembo calipers, rather than switching to the 2020-spec calipers (or in Viñales' case, sticking with the low mass 2019 calipers, which proved to be woefully susceptible to overheating). Those issues saw Viñales crash and the other Yamahas struggle to finish anywhere near the podium, with Rossi the best of the Yamaha riders for both Austrian races, finishing fifth and ninth. Fabio Quartararo had scored 50 points in the first two races, but could add only 20 more points in the three which followed.

Are the Yamahas doomed to be swallowed up as the others catch up? That is a conclusion which is massively premature. Misano should be a much better track for all of the Yamaha riders: in 2019, the four Yamahas finished second through fifth behind Marc Márquez, with Quartararo coming within a couple of corners of winning the race. With Márquez out, the Yamahas should be firm favorites for the win at the Adriatic track.

Turning a corner?

There are plenty of reasons for optimism at Misano for Yamaha. The track suits the bike, as last year's results attest. It is not a high-speed track, or a track where horsepower reigns supreme, despite a couple of tight corners. There are plenty of places where corner speed can be exploited, and even the run onto the fastest section of the track, through the aptly-named Curvone (or Big, Serious Corner) is out of Tramonto, a corner which allows a sweeping line to maintain corner speed. A new surface means a lot more grip, which plays to the strength of the Yamahas, as was the case at Jerez.

The lack of heat should help keep the engine situation manageable, the nearby Adriatic helping keep temperatures inside a more bearable range. Maximum temperatures are expected to be around 27°C, which is warm but not excessive. The moisture in the sea air can help too. The fact that the bikes never get above 295 km/h means that the brakes are not too heavily taxed. Brembo rates the Misano circuit as the lightest for braking of the circuits raced on so far, categorizing it as a three out of five for braking intensity.

Put this all together and you get a chance for Fabio Quartararo to get his title challenge back on track. And with Maverick Viñales and Valentino Rossi only 22 and 25 points behind Quartararo respectively, a chance for them to get climb in the standings too. The championship could look very different after two rounds at Misano, which would make Barcelona a little easier to cope with, especially with Le Mans to follow, a track at which the Yamahas have excelled over the years.

Opportunity knocks for Dovi?

The main challenge to Yamaha's expected supremacy at Misano comes from Ducati. The Misano circuit is one of Ducati's two official test tracks, the other being Mugello, and test rider Michele Pirro has a couple of million laps around the track. Andrea Dovizioso won here in 2018, teammate Jorge Lorenzo crashing out of a podium position. In 2017, Dovizioso and Danilo Petrucci put their Ducatis on the podium.

Dovizioso has been struggling with the new rear Michelin tire, though he has been making steady progress with it as the season has progressed. The issue has been corner entry, and getting that right is crucial at Misano, with a number of places where the riders are braking hard with the bike leaned over. Fortunately for Dovizioso, he has two shots at getting it right, and an opportunity to use the lessons of the first Misano weekend to set the bike up for the second.

Dovizioso is just three points behind championship leader Quartararo, and Misano is a good chance to challenge for the lead. After Misano comes Barcelona, where the Ducatis can use their horsepower advantage, and then Le Mans, where they have been on the podium for the last two years. That offers the Italian veteran a chance to build a solid foundation for the final third of the championship, especially if it is cut short by another coronavirus outbreak.

Dovizioso will not be the only Ducati looking for a result in Misano. Danilo Petrucci has a strong record at the track, and like Dovizioso, is highly motivated to show Ducati that he is a competitive rider (as well as next year's employer, KTM). Jack Miller is coming off two podiums in Austria, and is showing why he was promoted to the factory team for next year. Miller is third in the championship, and though he trails Quartararo by 16 points, he is once again back in the chase for the title.

The new kids on the block

Misano will be a proving ground for KTM as well. The Austrian factory has tested at the circuit this year, and so has an idea of how the new bike works at the circuit. They are coming off two victories in the last three races, as well as a podium for Pol Espargaro. If KTM are fighting for podiums and wins at Misano, then that could change the complexion of the championship. You can already make a case that the KTM RC16 is the best bike on the grid. Two or three KTM riders battling for the podium would boost that case, while a win would put it beyond dispute.

Brad Binder is the first KTM in the championship, trailing Fabio Quartararo by 21 points. Binder's speed is beyond question – he has been the surprise of the year so far, showing his speed in correcting mistakes at Jerez, then winning at Brno and finishing fourth in Austria. But his propensity to make rookie mistakes could cost him dearly, as he has yet to figure out qualifying, his best starting position seventh at Brno. Binder's potential is exceptional, but he still has flaws which need ironing out.

The biggest issue so far for the other KTM riders has been one of consistency. Miguel Oliveira has won a race, and Pol Espargaro has a pole position and a podium. But both riders also have two DNFs to their name, though they are not entirely to blame for the zeroes on their score sheets. Oliveira is maturing into an outstanding rider, while Espargaro's impetuous nature still trips him up. Yet you feel that both riders are still capable of winning, and with Misano, a track they have tested at, and Barcelona, a circuit which should suit the strengths of the KTM, there are still victories up for grabs. Even Iker Lecuona has started to fulfill some of the promise he showed in Moto2.

The Hamamatsu Hammer

The main objection to naming the KTM as the best bike on the grid is the existence of the Suzuki GSX-RR. The Suzuki seems to have some serious strengths without any obvious weaknesses: it has unrivaled agility, an astonishing ability to carry corner speed, and yet the bike is not down on top speed particularly, giving up just a few km/h to the Ducatis and Hondas. It accelerates, brakes, turns, and holds a line well.

If anything, Suzuki is suffering from a lack of a satellite squad. Alex Rins' injury at Jerez has not slowed him up as much as you might expect, but given how strong he has been at Brno and in Austria, it's clear he had the potential to be right in the middle of the championship fight. Joan Mir has finished second, fourth, and fifth, but also has two DNFs to his name. Mir has made a huge step forward this season, building on the success of the last couple of races in 2019, and is on equal terms with his teammate.

Rins' injury makes the case for a Suzuki satellite squad. With two more Suzukis on the grid, there would have been two more Suzukis up front and scoring points. The bike is competitive, and not especially difficult to get up to speed on. With only two riders on the grid, injuries hit Suzuki more badly than other manufacturers.

Suzuki have every reason to expect strong results in the next few races. The bike has the right mix of corner speed and acceleration to go well at Misano, and it should be able to hold its own at Barcelona, where Rins and Mir finished fourth and sixth last year. The GSX-RR is a better bike in 2020, and Joan Mir has made a step forward as a rider, while Alex Rins is managing his shoulder injury rather well. The Suzuki is gentle on tires, which is a strength at a newly resurfaced track, Rins and Mir able to exploit the available grip. Mir is 26 points behind Quartararo in the championship, and is still in the race for the title.

Tough times

What have we learned about Honda in 2020? We have learned that the 2019 bike is an easier package to ride than the 2020 bike, and probably a better bike. We have learned that the Honda RC213V is competitive, but only when ridden by Marc Márquez. As a result, we have also learned that without Marc Márquez, HRC are in deep, deep trouble. Honda are fifth out of sixth in the manufacturers championship, only Takaaki Nakagami's strong results on the 2019 bike saving their blushes, and the factory Repsol Honda squad is dead last in the team standings.

The hope for Honda lies with Nakagami, who is sixth in the championship and was arguably robbed of his first MotoGP podium when the last race in Austria was red flagged due to Maverick Viñales' crash. The LCR Honda rider has made good use of Marc Márquez' data from last year, and has changed his riding style accordingly. The 2019 bike seems to suffer less with the braking problems caused by the 2020 Michelin rear than this year's bike, and Nakagami is getting the best from it.

As for the other Honda riders, Cal Crutchlow has been suffering with arm pump and has just had surgery to address the issue, while Alex Márquez is making slow and steady progress getting to grips with the most difficult bike on the grid. The younger Márquez is bearing up rather well under the pressure of being in the Repsol Honda team, and has his head down to learn as fast as he can. But he is still struggling just to score points, which is not where a Repsol Honda rider is supposed to be. Filling in for Marc Márquez, Stefan Bradl is doing what might be expected from a test rider.

Finally, Aprilia. The 2020 RS-GP is a huge step forward compared to last year, but unfortunately for Aleix Espargaro, not quite enough of a step forward for it to be truly competitive. The bike still lacks power, and that has made his life difficult. Misano is a track where Aprilia has tested a lot, which should give him at least a shot at chasing the second group, the riders battling behind the podium. 2020 has shown that the Aprilia is a much better motorcycle, but it won't be fighting in the front group until 2021 at the earliest.

After the first five races, the 2020 MotoGP season is still wide open. Given the way that the season has gone so far, and how balanced the field is this year – especially without Marc Márquez – it is unlikely that the next three races will clarify the situation overly much. There are still too many competitive riders on too many competitive bikes for a clear leader to emerge. We may have to wait until Aragon to get a chance to judge who has a shot at taking the title.


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